“What is your language?”
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims the right to freedom of opinion and expression for everyone. But what happens when one’s expression is not conventional, not easily understood? What does it takes to be understood?
I am deeply inspired by people who express themselves in their idiosyncratic, unique ways, people with profound and other learning disabilities alike, and those who continuously seek creative ways to understand them. My name is Marina Jurjevic. I am a passionate interaction practitioner, an artist, art tutor and above all a human being. I work for ‘Us in a Bus’, an amazing charity that has inspiring, dedicated people and intensive interaction at its core.
I’ve chosen art to explore the questions of language, communication and understanding, because music and art in my interaction practice are key to connection with the people we support. In collaboration with numerous participants, an art installation was born: ‘What is Your Language?’ It’s aim has been to collectively share the knowledge about intensive interaction, as widely as possible, including international gallery spaces. Intensive Interaction is a method that is not known in my home country of Croatia (to my knowledge). Because art is a powerful tool to address such issues, we used this opportunity to raise awareness about Intensive Interaction and people who express themselves in different ways. We aimed to inspire all to expand their horizons of communication beyond the conventional.
The multimedia exhibition ‘What is Your Language?’ was installed in ‘Mali Salon’, the most beautiful gallery in the city of Rijeka, Croatia. The eight-channel film installation ‘Trust I’ and video projection ‘Trust II’ invited visitors to experience different ways of expression and communication; to feel what an intensive interaction could be. I filmed my fellow interaction practitioners using intensive interaction methods as if they were interacting with an imaginary partner, along with other professionals using their own expressive languages to convey messages to their imaginary partners. Taekwondo teachers described five tenets (courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit) by using their body language. Musicians created their musical language in relation to teacher`s movements and meaning of the tenets. At private viewings, we gave out information sheets about intensive interaction and they were taken in minutes by the visitors. These have been the seeds for the future. During the viewings, I improvised on the piano a musical language that reflected my interaction practice and dialogue with an imaginative communication partner, so that visitors were able to hear something that sounded like, but in fact it was not, ‘music’. There was also a performer strolling through the gallery, nonverbally inviting visitors to communicate with her – just through gaze. This was a collective effort to move on from the conventional ways of communicating.
Milica Djilas, a senior gallery educator at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art Rijeka, supported from the beginning the idea of introducing intensive interaction in the gallery space. She also enabled us to transform the gallery into a learning and experiential space, where the interactive workshops were based on intensive interaction methods. We invited people with learning disabilities, children with autism and visual impairments, children from mainstream schools, modern dance students, future teachers and general visitors to experience this exhibition in a relaxed and creative way. The gallery also provided an electric piano so that we could create music interaction based workshops.
Through specially designed workshops and relaxed exhibition tours we encouraged the participation and, hopefully enjoyment, of cultural activity for all the people giving them time to absorb the content and respond in their preferred ways.
We believe that the workshops and the exhibition content made a positive difference to the lives of people with learning disabilities in particular, and their families, who are often excluded from cultural activities because of the barriers they face through disability. A young man with autism, who visited a gallery for the first time ever, responded to music intensive interaction with amazing focus and enthusiasm. This seemed to significantly raise his motivation to dance and talk. I was invited to his school and met his mother who told me how big an impact that gallery visit had on him. A man with profound learning disability used his beautiful melodic voice during the intensive interaction gallery session in an amazingly creative and emotional way, seemingly conveying his deep feelings. We provided a shared social experiences where visitors could participate together. We wanted to raise the public and cultural profile of these audiences and the importance of cultural provision for them.
The gallery is a space to create and be creative. We provided children with visual impairment with some sensory art material and the opportunity to independently and collaboratively create works of art that became part of the site-specific installation. This is the communicative tactile object (white balloon) that they decorated. We witnessed how motivated and proactive the children became. On special request from two of our visually impaired children we demonstrated some hand over hand Taekwondo moves (that we described to them from the video projection). That raised the spirits and at time laughter stopped us in our actions.
We appropriated the content of the exhibition for the school children and introduced some information about intensive interaction principles.
We were surprised with the level of interest that children showed. They were even queuing to watch all the videos showing intensive interaction based communication. It has been so inspiring to look at their art work that they made afterwards in their school (Cjelovitost – integrity). The art works clearly shows what an impact such serious films left on the children’s curiosity and observation.
I gave an artist talk to visitors and future teachers about the exhibition and Intensive Interaction, that informed the whole exhibition.
The information about intensive interaction went further as we have media coverage in local Croatian and Italian La Voce newspaper, local radio, city portal etc. We hope that the seeds that we planted will bring something good in the future.
Marina Jurjevic, Croatia
 UN General Assembly Resolution 217A(III), Article 19.,Universal Declaration of Human Rights